December basketball is underrated.
Christmas Day games are always great, and it’s the beginning of conference play around Division I. Really, it’s hard to imagine watching anything else.
There were a few tremendous games last week, and this week will be even better. With dominant performances and surprising upsets, TRACR had some major changes. Florida, for example, dropped from sixth in TRACR to 24th because of their loss to Texas Southern (151st in TRACR), who entered the game 0-7. Conference play in the Pac-12 has already begun, and some in-state rivalries featured top teams. Wisconsin (18th), for example, went off in the second half against intrastate rival Marquette (68th).
Recall that TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. TRACR will reward those who beat good teams and punish those who lose to bad ones.
Here are some noticeable trends after last week’s games:
Alabama (12th) had a huge win over the weekend. No, I’m not talking about the Tide’s win over Georgia in the SEC championship game on Saturday. I’m referring to their 91-82 win over Gonzaga (No. 3) that night. Alabama was up by 16 over the Zags at halftime and did not slow down at all. The game was played at a neutral site in Seattle, but the proximity made it practically a home game for the Bulldogs. It was impressive.
This team loves to shoot 3s and has consistently been a top team in Division I in 3-point rate under Nate Oats. What makes this team different is how well Jaden Shackelford has played. The junior is averaging 19.3 points – best in the SEC – and he’s improved his 3-point shooting from 34.2% last season to 43.1 this season. He scored 28 against Gonzaga, going 6 for 8 from downtown.
This team has more experience than last year’s squad and could make a deep run in the tournament.
Illini Fighting Back
Illinois (No. 9) was ranked third overall in the preseason TRACR rankings and 11th in the preseason AP Poll. However, injuries and an early suspension for Kofi Cockburn has made this Illini squad incomplete, and they dropped as low as 26th in TRACR while being knocked from the AP Poll.
The Illini are back, but still not at 100%. Cockburn is almost unguardable (he’s averaging 22.8 points and 11.8 rebounds). Coleman Hawkins has stepped up as a solid big who can spread the floor. When Andre Curbelo returns, they can bounce back to the top-five team TRACR projected.
The emergence of Alfonso Plummer is a big reason why Illinois has bounced back. The transfer from Utah played a limited number of minutes at the start of the season, averaging 6.3 points in the team’s first four games. Since then, the graduate senior has averaged 23.4 while going 23 of 47 (.489) from beyond the arc. He has yet to miss a free throw this season, sinking all 28 attempts. And he comes in clutch, too – his corner 3 to escape Iowa’s trap defense helped the Illini secure a road win on Monday.
Plummer is no Ayo Dosunmu, but he adds a second level of scoring outside of Cockburn that the Illini desperately needed. A test against Arizona this week will really show where they stand this season.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Pause the Christmas tunes and turn on the TV, as this week is jam packed with games. Not only is conference play returning with exciting matchups like Wisconsin at Ohio State (No. 5), but we’ll also see major conferences clash with each other, highlighted by the Big East-Big 12 Battle. Villanova (No. 7) goes to Baylor (No. 4) on Dec. 12 in what might be one of the best games of the year.
In addition to TRACR being a ranking system, it can also predict score outcomes. Here are some of the top games this week and the predictions according to TRACR:
No. 17 (TRACR) Texas Tech vs. No. 13 Tennessee (13th AP); Tuesday, Dec. 7
TRACR Favorite: Tennessee (61.0%)
Projected Score: Tennessee 79, Texas Tech 75
No. 23 Indiana at No. 18 Wisconsin (22nd AP); Wednesday, Dec. 8
TRACR Favorite: Wisconsin (67.5%)
Projected Score: Wisconsin 78, Indiana 73
No. 16 Texas (7th AP) at No. 33 Seton Hall (23rd AP); Thursday, Dec. 9
TRACR Favorite: Texas (52.6%)
Projected Score: Texas 80, Seton Hall 79
No. 19 Iowa at No. 90 Iowa State (17th AP); Thursday, Dec. 9
TRACR Favorite: Iowa (66.8%)
Projected Score: Iowa 90, Iowa State 83
No. 1 Houston (14th AP) at No. 12 Alabama (9th AP); Saturday, Dec. 11
TRACR Favorite: Houston (52.6%)
Projected Score: Houston 83, Alabama 81
No. 11 Arizona (11th AP) at No. 9 Illinois; Saturday, Dec. 11
TRACR Favorite: Illinois (54.3%)
Projected Score: Illinois 75, Arizona 73
No. 31 Arkansas (12th AP) vs. No. 29 Oklahoma; Saturday, Dec. 11
TRACR Favorite: Oklahoma (55.6%)
Projected Score: Oklahoma 82, Arkansas 80
No. 18 Wisconsin (22nd AP) at No. 5 Ohio State (21st AP); Saturday, Dec. 11
TRACR Favorite: Ohio State (72.6%)
Projected Score: Ohio State 80, Wisconsin 74
No. 7 Villanova (6th AP) at No. 4 Baylor (2nd AP); Sunday, Dec. 12
TRACR Favorite: Baylor (67.4%)
Projected Score: Baylor 86, Villanova 79
Graphic design by Briggs Clinard.